New England is awash in crossovers, SUVs and pickup trucks, even more so, it seems, than the rest of the world. This was by no means scientifically tabulated, more of a casual observation on a two-day drive through upper New York state’s Adirondack Park, across Lake Champlain by ferry to Vermont, through the Green Mountain State and then down alongside the New Hampshire border into Massachusetts, ending just outside of Boston, where we were visiting relatives. Subarus of all stripes abound in this four-season region of the U.S. where winters are long, hard and snowy, not to mention 4×4 and AWD representatives of just about every other mainstream manufacturer, including Volkswagen’s Tiguan and Atlas. But I only caught sight of two other Taoses, and then only after we had arrived in Boston.

OK, it debuted in late 2020 as a 2022 model, so it’s still fairly new, but I thought there’d be least a few more spotted along the way during the nearly 2,000-km family road trip, especially if they were painted in the same cheerful and highly visible Cornflower Blue shade as our 2022 Volkswagen Taos.

At 4,466 millimetres in length — just 236 mm shorter than the Tiguan — the (barely) subcompact Taos, based on VW’s MQB architecture, slots under its sibling, becoming VW’s entry-level crossover. But, other than some industrial-grade door trim and plastics, there is little that’s cheap about the surprisingly spacious soft-roader, including the top-spec Highline version’s $38,195 as-tested price tag. Other than the far-more-rugged-and-off-road-capable Jeep Compass Trailhawk Elite, the Taos is the most expensive of the eight subcompact crossovers I’ve driven this year. It’s also one of the most pleasant, with better-than-average visibility, sporty handling and Scrooge-like parsimony at fill-up time.

suv review: 2022 volkswagen taos highline

2022 Volkswagen Taos Highline Photo by Brian Harper

suv review: 2022 volkswagen taos highline

2022 Volkswagen Taos Highline Photo by Brian Harper

suv review: 2022 volkswagen taos highline

2022 Volkswagen Taos Highline Photo by Brian Harper

suv review: 2022 volkswagen taos highline

2022 Volkswagen Taos Highline Photo by Brian Harper

suv review: 2022 volkswagen taos highline

2022 Volkswagen Taos Highline Photo by Brian Harper

suv review: 2022 volkswagen taos highline

2022 Volkswagen Taos Highline Photo by Brian Harper

suv review: 2022 volkswagen taos highline

2022 Volkswagen Taos Highline Photo by Brian Harper

suv review: 2022 volkswagen taos highline

2022 Volkswagen Taos Highline Photo by Brian Harper

The parsimony was expected, the Taos powered by a 1.5-litre turbocharged and direct-injection four-cylinder making an adequate — for the subcompact segment —158 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. With help from its variable geometry turbocharging, the Taos delivered fuel economy ratings as low as 5.9 litres per 100 kilometres while plying the interstate as well as the lightly traveled and undulating secondary roads of the Adirondacks. Overall fuel economy during the eight-day sojourn was an easy-on-the-wallet 6.1 L/100 km, the engine running on regular unleaded.

Acceleration to highway speeds is reasonable for a rig weighing 1,566 kilograms, the Taos with 4Motion and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission getting to 100 km/h in just under eight seconds (front-wheel drive with an eight-speed automatic is offered with the base Trendline model). For the most part, the powertrain is smooth, quiet and unobtrusive — with one exception. There is a dead spot under initial acceleration, possibly from turbo lag. The normal response to this is to increase pressure on the gas pedal, which can cause the transmission to downshift, spooling the turbo and causing the Taos to jump ahead. It’s annoying but could be avoided with a little practice and patience. Putting the shifter into Sport mode from Normal also mitigated some of this unwanted effect.

suv review: 2022 volkswagen taos highline

2022 Volkswagen Taos Highline Photo by Brian Harper

suv review: 2022 volkswagen taos highline

2022 Volkswagen Taos Highline Photo by Brian Harper

suv review: 2022 volkswagen taos highline

2022 Volkswagen Taos Highline Photo by Brian Harper

suv review: 2022 volkswagen taos highline

2022 Volkswagen Taos Highline Photo by Brian Harper

suv review: 2022 volkswagen taos highline

2022 Volkswagen Taos Highline Photo by Brian Harper

There is no complaint when it comes to the Taos’ ride and handling, which is better than most of its competition. 4Motion-equipped models are fitted with a multi-link rear suspension versus the FWD model’s torsion beam setup. Nothing inherently special there but motoring eastward along New York’s scenic Highway 3 through the park showcased a sportiness that surprised and impressed. This highway twists and turns through the northern part of the Adirondack Mountain range, with long, sweeping curves that motorcyclists and drivers of sports cars would love. (I also recommend the Blue Ridge Road.) Aided by its Pirelli P225/45R19 rubber — part of a $500 alloy wheel package — the pedestrian-by-comparison VW displayed excellent grip with minor body roll, plus a firm ride that was still cosseting enough so as not to disturb either wife or daughter’s many naps.

Thanks to its long wheelbase relative to its overall length, the Taos has 2,818 litres (99.5 cubic feet) of passenger room, just 453 litres less than the Tiguan. Legroom was plentiful both front and rear. All-wheel-drive models have 705 litres of space behind the second row and 1,705 litres when second row is folded. We used every litre of the luggage area with our suitcases, plus some of the rear seat as well, but got everything we needed — and some we didn’t — in.

The Highline trim has numerous welcomed touches, everything from a digital instrument panel, keyless access, remote start, eight-way power driver seat with lumbar and heated and ventilated front seats to heated side mirrors, heated washer nozzles, multifunction steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, sunroof and rain-sensing wipers. For those who need to be connected, the crossover comes with three USB-C ports to plug devices in, plus a wireless charger and a 12-volt outlet. The embedded navigation displayed reasonably clear graphics, but the voice instructions were overwhelmed by Boston’s jumble of streets.

suv review: 2022 volkswagen taos highline

2022 Volkswagen Taos Highline Photo by Brian Harper

Considering that $38K price tag (before PDI and freight), the lack of a power passenger seat or power liftgate, which many of the Taos’ rivals have, did not impress my wife. More concerning to her, considering we have been shopping the subcompact crossover segment for the past six months, was that there were no forward parking sensors. As she has vision issues that make these sensors a must-have, this was an unforgivable omission — and as much as she enjoyed driving the Taos, she struck it from her list of potentials.

This small crossover segment is as broad as it is deep, and while the Taos has excellent fuel economy, better-than-average interior room, good handling and decent luggage capacity, it also has middling power, average interior trim quality and a powertrain that is not without criticism. And the Highline is high-priced. Moving down to the $32,395 Trendline keeps the essentials but also means giving up such niceties as a Beats audio system, digital cockpit, satellite navigation, sunroof and ventilated front seats.

This makes the Taos, or at least the Highline trim, a harder sell than it needs to be. Dropping its price and/or adding a few more standard features would help. Or VW could just adopt the brilliant solution my daughter came up with.  “Add the letter C to its name. Everybody likes tacos.”

Keyword: SUV Review: 2022 Volkswagen Taos Highline

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